One of the first and most important contributions Canada would make to the war effort would be the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Under a deal signed in 1939, Canada agreed to provide facilities and training for airmen from every part of the Commonwealth.
There were three locations in New Brunswick that trained aircrew under the BCATP. Chatham was the home of #21 Elementary Flying Training School and #10 Air Observer School; #8 Service Flying Training School was in Moncton (Lakeville); and, #2 Air Navigation School and #34 Operational Training Unit were in Pennfield Ridge. There were two relief landing fields for #8 SFTS Moncton - one at Salisbury and the other at Scoudouc.
Check out this RCAF video of the BCATP
Chatham opened on July 3, 1941 as a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan station. The station needed 660 acres of land to house three hangars, several support buildings, and the large, triangular runway to be used by the two schools being formed - #21 Elementary Flying Training School and #10 Air Observer School.
Early in the Second World War it became apparent that air power was to play an important part in the hostilities. With the invasion of Poland by the Germans came the declaration of war of Britain, soon followed by that of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The fall of France meant that the British Commonwealth stood alone against the Axis. Canada was anxious to do her part and Canadian Defence officials conferred with their British counterparts to decide on the Canadian contribution. Besides sending troops, aircrew, and sailors to Britain to participate directly in the fight, it was decided that Canada would assume a secondary training role and train all the Commonwealth aircrew. This scheme was called the British Empire Air Training Plan and undertook to train aircrew on a scale never before contemplated. The BETP was renamed the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) at the request of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The plan was soon out of the political arena and training establishments were springing up all over the country. It was in this atmosphere that the Air Force came to Chatham.
On May 22, 1940, Mayor Flieger of Chatham was advised by the Honorable W.S. Anderson, Minister of Public Works for the province of New Brunswick, that Chatham had been selected as a base under the BCATP. The town newspaper, The Commercial World, had to request permission from government censors to publish what it called “the glad tidings.” Chatham had been hit severely by the depression years of the 1930s and the sight of surveyors and evaluation teams had raised hopes that Chatham would be selected as a base that would provide a means of livelihood for some of the town’s inhabitants. A delay in the start of construction brought a feeling of disappointment to the town and when the construction of the airfield was announced, the paper replied with this headline which illustrated the feelings of the townspeople;
“AIRPORT CONSTRUCTION AT CHATHAM AGAIN MOOTED—Project of vital concern to this town is practically assured.”
Construction began in the summer of 1940 with the clearing of the main runway. This was followed with the erection of the buildings and hangars and by the spring of 1941 the base was nearly ready for the two units which were to occupy it, #21 Elementary Flying Training School and #10 Air Observers School. In April a security guard officer and a detachment of 15 men and one non-commissioned officer reported to the station and supervised the final preparations. On July 3rd the station (buildings, equipment, services, etc.) was opened for operation and the supervisory staff of the schools arrived.
The majority of the schools in the BCATP were operated by civilians, as instructors, mechanics and administrators freed RCAF personnel for the war theatres. The supervisory staff was usually made up of WWI veterans who were too old to employ in combat roles but could be used as RCAF supervisors.
*Excerpt from Miramichi Military History compiled by C. Bird, R. Noel, G. Swain and M. Veilleux in 1982.
An Empire Air Training blazer crest from the jacket donated by George Neal, a pilot at #10 AOS.
In March 1941, the Moncton Flying Club received word that a large School
in Chatham was to be opened, known as No. 21 E.F.T.S., R.C.A.F., and if the Club could supply the necessary staff and management as well as a substantial sum of money, more as evidence of good faith than actual
capital, they would be given an opportunity to operate the School. (This was deemed a signal honor by the Club as it was a slight departure from the usual policy of the Department of National Defence for Air due to the fact that Schools were to be operated by member clubs of the Canadian Flying Clubs Association and the Moncton Flying Club was not then a member of this organization.)
Work was immediately started on the organization of a new Company to take over the new project and after numerous conferences, much burning of the midnight oil and many arguments by Messrs. Humphrey, Mills, Creaghan, Baxter and Bourgeois the new Company was born by the name of the Miramichi Flying Training School Limited. The name which is to say the least, uncommon, was in honor of Mr. Creaghan whose home was located on the banks of the beautiful Miramichi River in Northern New Brunswick and where the Flying School was to be located.
Hangars were still under construction when No. 21 EFTS started operations. Photo credit: G. Neal
Miramichi Flying Training School Ltd. had been given a Dominion charter of incorporation on May 15, 1941. It had operated at the Moncton airport until Moncton was turned into an Advanced Service Flying School. The RCAF supervisory staff was headed by Flight Lieutenant (F/L) PJ Grant, the Chief Supervisory officer, who had a staff of two officers and five men. The operating company was responsible for everything, including the messing and quarters of the students, and had charge of the 31 Fleet Finch II aircraft on loan from the government. The first intake of the school consisted of 35 students. The flight candidates took ground school courses in navigation, aircraft recognition, parachutes, signals, armament and aero engines; as well as Link trainer instruction and actual flying in the Finches.
*This section is an excerpt from Miramichi Military History compiled by C. Bird, R. Noel, G. Swain and M. Veilleux in 1982.
The Link trainer was used in Chatham to train pilots at #21 EFTS. Photo credit: DND via G. Neal.
By June 2, 1941, a large portion of the staff had been installed at No. 21 in Chatham and the organization of the School had been very near complete. The School opened officially on July 2, 1941, with our first intake of pupils and training commenced with great enthusiasm. In the meantime the Flying Club had ceased operations for the duration and many of the pilots that had been
trained were posted to Chatham.
Mr. A.M. Snowden and Mr. Weeks had been made C.F.I. and Assistant C.F.I. Mr. C.J. Fitch was appointed C.G.I. and the rest of the Flying Club Staff used as a nucleus for the different departments as the expansion was from 10 employees at the Club to over a hundred civilian employees at the school. Mr. Humphrey and Mr. Mills obtained leave of absence from their respective
businesses and took positions with the Miramichi Flying Training School Limited, Mr. Humphrey as Manager and Mr. Mills as Secretary Treasurer. No. 21 E.F.T.S. operated very successfully for a period of fourteen months and had settled down to a routine, believing that the School would be in Chatham for the duration of the War. Notice was then received that it was intended that the R.A.F. Schools in Western Canada were to be civilianized, that No. 21 E.F.T.S. was to be disbanded and our organization moved to Neepawa, Manitoba.
A Fleet Finch aircraft similar to those flown at #21 EFTS. Photo credit: A. Dunphy, DFC.
Preparations were immediately started for the closing of the school, moving of personnel and their personal belongings as well as the equipment of the Company that was to move. This move involving some 200 people and a distance of over 2400 miles was certainly viewed with some misgiving but we are happy to say that nothing was lost and the special train carrying the
personnel arrived with all people who started off. Instead of being the problem it promised to be, it seemed to form into a huge picnic until Neepawa was reached and the trouble of locating the families and starting the School
at No. 35 began again.
In the move we lost the services of Mr. Snowden, as the policy of having civilian instructors was changed to the present one of having Air Force instructors. Mr. Snowden is now a Flight Commander at No. 10 A.O.S. Mr. C.J. Fitch, our former C.G.I. had also left us after we had been in Neepawa a short time, for the Air Force.
Such is a short summary of the Company which in two years to all practical purposes has expanded from 10 employees to 100 and then to nearly 400, from a Flying Club to an Elementary School roughly five times its size and
then expanded three times again. Doing this under normal conditions of expansion would be quite a task but in each case it was done in a matter of two or three weeks. This tremendous expansion of the School is a credit to
the Management which has remained the same, and especially to Mr. J.W. Humphrey, the manager of the School.
Interest has always run high in the financial details of Elementary Flying Training Schools and to touch briefly on that topic the facts are these:
* The operating Company is a Non-Profit Organization.
* The Department of National Defence allots to the Company a certain sum every 28 days called the target figure. Any savings in the sum revert back to the Crown less a stipulated amount fixed by the Department of National
Defence for Air that is to be returned to the parent flying club at the conclusion of the war to be used for the advancement of civilian flying at that time.
*Salaries are fixed within definite limits by the contract.
(The above text is an excerpt from "A History of #35 EFTS" - author unknown)
The Moncton Flying Club was originally established in 1929. In 1997, the name was changed to the Moncton Flight College and they have been providing world-class instruction in flying operations ever since.
Operated in the same manner as #21 EFTS, #10 AOS was run by a civilian company, the Northumberland Air Observers School Ltd. There was an important exception however; the instructors were all RCAF personnel. This arose from the fact there was a limited supply of civilian navigators and it was felt it would be easier to use RCAF personnel. The civilian company operated, maintained and had the aircraft on loan. The civilian pilots were tested by Air Force examiners to ensure a reasonable amount of competence. The RCAF supervisory staff of #10 AOS was under the command of Squadron Leader (S/L) W.H. Stapley and the Chief Instructor was Flight Lieutenant (F/L) Forbes. The school opened on July 21, 1941 with 9 officers on staff and 104 trainees. The Northumberland Air Observers School had 11 Avro Anson MK I trainers on loan from the government.
The student observers and navigators were given theory courses in the classrooms and performed practical exercises in the Ansons. November 23, 1941 saw the first class graduate from #10 AOS, all Sergeant Observers. The first “wings” parade for navigators was held August 8th of the same year with the Hon. J.B. McNair, Premier of N.B., presiding. It was on the 18th of August that #21 EFTS left for Manitoba making #10 AOS the sole occupant of the station. Originally it had been planned to move #10 AOS as well, to Davidson, Saskatchewan, under a policy of moving all training bases inland. An increase in the requirement for navigators however, led to the movement of the EFTSs inland and the expansion of the Air Observers Schools in their established locations.
The rapid change of weather at Chatham presented a few problems. The aircraft were grounded by clouds and fog since the navigation was celestial. One case of extremes occurred on May 7, 1943. The aircraft had taken off in clear conditions for night flying. After the exercises had begun a heavy fog rolled in covering the airfield and most of the Maritimes. Cloud cover prevented fixes from being taken on the stars and fog obscured the landmarks. The aircraft over the water were worse off, being forced to ditch. Two trainees were drowned and two other students and one instructor were lost in crashes. The fog cost #10 AOS four aircraft completely destroyed and a number of others damaged. On January 31, 1944 the Anson MK Is were being replaced by Anson MK Vs and the school had 39 aircraft on inventory with 49 officers on staff and 140 students.
The Museum is indebted to Mr. George Neal for donating photos and video that he took of #10 AOS in Chatham while stationed there from 1941 to 1945. He was interviewed on his return to Chatham in September 2014 as we marked the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.
Front row – E. Rigley, A.E. O’Donnell, J. Gauthier, D.J. Dougherty, C. Shee, R. Ward, T.E. Lockerbie, M. Ryan, C.A. Nevin, M.J. Breau, A. Hedquist,
M.D. Dunnett, E.F. Stevenson, L.P. MacKinnon, D.J. Ferguson, G.A. Neal, G. Thorburn, C. Stables, G.O’Donnell, J. Crosbie, E. Beck, T. Currie, H. Groat,
J. Vautor, J. Olson, E. Ross.
Second row – H. Thomas, G.A. Potter, A. MacDonald, A. Matthews, Mrs. Morris, J. Beek, G. Harriman, E. MacPherson, E. Frost, E. Barry,
M. MacIntyre, E. Powers, E. Jardine, E. MacDonald,
S. Blakley, B. Clancy, D. Delancy, I. McEachern, K. White, E. Dutcher, K. Giggie, T. Olsen, B. Gilles, M. MacLean, A. Doucette.
Third row – D. MacDonald, S. Macnaughton, I. Coltart, W. Ramsey,
L. Richard, James O’Kane, J. Fitzpatrick, J.F. Martin, Jos. O’Kaine,
W.C. Jardine, B. Williston, G. Dickson, R. Thompson,
L. Keating, W. MacLean, W. Bowio, H. Gremley, L. Hatchett, J. Arseneault, J.J. Williston, H.R. MacKinley, W. Good, A. Ross, E. Taylor, J. Lockerbie, J.F. Goulette, H. Thornton, R. Williston, H. Dickson
Guard on duty at the entrance to the Chatham air base. Photo credit: RCAF via G. Neal
As the war in Europe drew to a close the BCATP was no longer necessary. With a reserve of trained aircrew from the European theatre to use against Japan if needed, it became apparent that the plan had served its useful life. Orders were issued from Ottawa for the disbandment of the school. On March 28, 1945 the last graduation was held and the next day all flying ceased. The graduates proceeded no further in their training and were sent directly to St. Hubert, Quebec for discharge. The school was officially disbanded on April 30, 1945 and a board of officers was convened to take over #10 AOS from the Northumberland AOS Ltd. From the inception of the school in 1941 to its closing, the school graduated 89 courses, putting the number of personnel trained at 1500.
The closing of the school put the station’s maintenance in the hands of #602 Reserve Equipment Maintenance Satellite, a sub-unit of #6 Reserve Equipment Maintenance Unit in Mont Joli, Quebec. When it became apparent that Chatham would not have a place in immediate post-war defence policy, #602 REMS was officially inactivated on December 31, 1945, and the station was placed in the hands of Crown Assets for disposal.
*Excerpt from Miramichi Military History compiled by C. Bird, R. Noel, G. Swain and M. Veilleux in 1982.
George Neal (centre) and friends celebrate the end of the war in Europe. Photo credit: G. Neal.